Pitfalls in Communication: Improper Channels

Part 4 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

At large, we tend to be very passive, non-confrontational, and people-pleasing communicators. Even the most aggressive among us, deep down, want to be loved and so we tend to shy away when problems come up. This disposition causes us to use bad channels of communication. Every day, each hour, we have choices to make about which channel to communicate through and the hardest choices happen when conflict rears its ugly head.

I think it’s funny that now that everyone has a cell phone, we actually call someone to discuss a problem and we hope to get the voicemail. When someone answers, we say, “Oh! I didn’t expect to get you. I was just getting ready to leave a voicemail.”  There are times when two people experience conflict and both go to extreme measures to avoid the other person, whether at home, work, or even out in public.

The bottom line is this: we choose a particular channel of communication based on what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. Talking face-to-face with your boss about a problem is uncomfortable, so you write a note or send an email. Calling an offended friend is hard, so you send a pithy text message to try and smooth things over.  Looking your hurt spouse in the eyes is tortuous, so you avoid her altogether.

I’ve learned what channels to use the hard way. I’ve had more than my share of email conflicts, and I’ve avoided people and had huge consequences.  With all this in mind, here are some general guidelines for determining proper channels of communication:

  • Face-to-face should always be the desired channel of communication. If that is unavailable, then try a phone conversation. If you can’t call them, then send an email. Finally, if email is not possible, then get ready for thunder thumbs and send a text message.
  • Never communicate anything negative in a written channel.  Negative communication in an email or text can be deadly to any relationship. We know these are never good mediums because you cannot hear tone, inflection, or see the face and eyes of the other person.  However, negative communication doesn’t need to be offensive communication if delivered with kindness, gentleness, and loving truth while seeing and hearing the other person.  If you cannot get a hold of them, then send a message letting them know you’d like to meet in person.
  • Therefore, email should only be used for positive or neutral communication. This also applies for memos in an organizational context.
  • When having a face-to-face conversation, remember that people communicate differently. Some people speak faster than they think, while others need some time to internally process. Communicate how you communicate, but be gracious in allowing the other person to communicate how they communicate. If there is an abundance of grace and understanding from both people, conflict will not arise out of conflict.
  • Thanks to my fiancée, whom I’ve learned this from: in a written correspondence, if you have to write “I’m just kidding” or “That was a joke,” then you probably shouldn’t have written it.

Pitfalls in Communication: Differing Interpretive Filters

Part 2 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

Cultural (Environmental) Filters
Everyone has their own culture.  Culture is a shared system of values, beliefs, attitudes, and norms.  Culture is not simply an ethnicity thing.  It’s not just “Irish” culture and “Indian” culture and “South African” culture.

I grew up in Omaha.  People from South Omaha (like me) have a different culture than people from North Omaha or West Omaha or Downtown Omaha.  Neighbors living on the same block can have completely different cultures.  “Come on over,” for one family means the door is literally always unlocked.  “Come on over,” for another family means, “Call before you come.”

We tend to communicate the way our culture has conditioned us to communicate.  This means we view time, relationships, contexts, privacy, and methods of communication (that is, direct or indirect) differently than other cultures.  When we talk to people using words or concepts about our particular values (that even might be ambiguous to someone in a different culture), we must be extremely intentional to define what we our meaning is.

Gender Filters
Let’s be honest here.  Men and women are different.  I’ve long said, “Men might not be from Venus, and women might not be from Mars, but they certainly could be from opposite sides of the earth.”  Now communicative rules concerning gender aren’t without exception, but for the most part, you know what I mean.  I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to get an email that says, “That’s untrue!  We aren’t like that!” and then I get railed on.  (By the way, an email like that — from a man or a woman — might just prove my point.)

Nevertheless, when men and women communicate, whether in marriage, in a family, as friends, or in a work relationship, we must have it on the forefront of our minds that we are different from each other.  Men and women are created equal — no question about it.  But anyone who says we are the same has some serious issues.


Pitfalls in Communication: Assumptions

Series Index 

Part 1 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

I have a degree in communication studies from the University of Nebraska. That’s not very special. It’s not like I’m an expert. You can ask my fiancée, my parents, my friends or…anyone to confirm this.  You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to be an expert in communicating however.  I love quality communication and desire to work harder at it.

If you think about it, it’s really amazing that any message ever gets across to anyone else.  Why are we so bad at communication? The most important thing is to remember what Paul Tripp says: “You are your biggest communication problem.” That has been revolutionary for me. It is taking me from pride, thinking I’m always right and understood, to humility and figuring what to say and how to say it.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at common pitfalls in communication.  None of this is based on research. It’s just my humble opinion.  Let’s start with number one: assumptions.

Assumptions about Information
So often, we think that other people have availability to the same knowledge that we do. Sometimes they do, and don’t utilize it. Other times, they don’t, but aren’t to blame. Whenever we have meetings, phone conversations, a friendly get-together, lunch, or send an email or a simply text message, we need to be absolutely clear about all the information we know about. It never hurts to withhold information, even if you feel you might be repeating yourself. Get all the information on the table and don’t assume the world knows what you know. On the other end of the spectrum, it can be deadly to not mention even the tiniest detail. You might think it’s common knowledge, but if it’s not, then you’ve ruined it for everyone.

This is true whether it’s communication between a husband-wife, parent-child, manager-employee, friend-friend, or any kind of relationship imaginable. It’s a product of the human condition that when we speak, we assume that everyone knows what’s going on in our minds, what we were thinking, what we are going to think, and where we’re going next. The problem is, if information is lacking, everyone will be confused and you will be to blame.

Assumptions about Intention
Not only do we make assumptions about people knowing (or having access to) information, but we also make assumptions about people’s intentions when they speak or do something. Of course, the Bible says that out of the heart come evil thoughts and words and actions (Mark 7). So we know that at our core we really are wicked people. But by God’s grace, generally, in interpersonal relationships and in the workforce context, people tend to have the best intentions when they communicate.

This has been so difficult for me to learn. Sometimes I think people are always out to get me. Obviously, this is very wrong. Rather than having a “me against the world” attitude, we need to know that people we interact with, especially those closest to us, want to work with us, not against us. If I make an assumption that my ministry associate or my fiancée, for example, is working for my ill, and not my good, I will either withdraw, get angry, fabricate the truth, withhold communication, or do a number of other things.  In short, I need to believe the best about the person instead of assuming the worst.

Most relationships in life are joined together, in some way or another, to accomplish a common goal. In the Christian context (and so in all of life), the goal is to glorify God. In a family, it’s to be happy; in a business, it’s to gain a profit; in school, it’s to get good grades; in a neighborhood, it’s to maintain safety; in a non-profit, it’s to a cause.

If we make assumptions that people communicate poorly or do something wrong on purpose, then we will become a hindrance to communication and progress to whatever type of goal we are trying to reach, whatever it is.